GeoWeb101 Workshop

A Digital Nervous System for the Planet

The GeoWeb 2009 Conference in Vancouver offers a new GeoWeb101 workshop by these visionaries. Following are their definitions of the GeoWeb:

The Geospatial Web is not just a bunch of mash-ups or even the hundreds of SDI's that have been successfully deployed. The Geospatial Web is about the complete integration and use of location at all levels of the Internet and the Web. This integration will often be invisible to the user. But at the end of the day, the ubiquitous permeation of location into the infrastructure of the Internet and the Web is being built on standards.
—Dr. Carl Reed, CTO, Open Geospatial Consortium

The GeoWeb is more than virtual globes. Today, and for the near term, it is the set of local systems sometimes called Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDIs) that provide access to information for decision making and support collaboration among organizations. In the future, the GeoWeb will represent the integration of all business processes that relate to the world around us. It will serve as the foundation for decision making in government, in industry and in our private lives. It will present us, in a multitude of ways, the state of the world.

—Ron Lake, CEO, Galdos Systems
The GeoWeb is an interconnectedness of information and services that extends the connectedness we already experience on the Web with a set of applications and protocols to exploit information at an unprecedented level.
—Michael P. Gerlek, Director of Engineering, LizardTech

Three different perspectives from leading visionaries on the definition of the GeoWeb all bring one common foundation concept—the GeoWeb is the platform for the aggregation and integration for geospatial information and services related to life on the planet. Ron Lake has also referred to the GeoWeb as the “digital nervous system” for the planet. With rising data input levels, including real-time information from sensors around the world, this appears to be an apt image of the role of the GeoWeb.

Now that we have some views of what the GeoWeb means, what about its history, what are the important components, and why does it matter? These questions will be discussed in a new workshop at the GeoWeb2009 conference titled GeoWeb101. The three quoted visionaries above will teach the workshop. Here’s a brief overview of what you can expect in the workshop.

Evolution of the GeoWeb:

The GeoWeb’s evolution has tracked that of the Web, moving from Web 1.0 to 2.0, and 3.0. However, the GeoWeb has not been awarded such clear distinctions. Instead, the evolution of the GeoWeb has been described as essentially moving from the ability to form simple queries, such as “show me the location of a restaurant on a map,” to complex temporal modeling scenarios such as “show me the effects of weather on rice production over the last year, or over the next ten years.”

What is meant by geo?

Traditionally, geo has been narrowly defined to mean GIS data, imagery, GPS data—grids, points, lines and polygons. However, any measurement that pertains to the physical world should fall under the term of geodata. Real-time traffic feeds, weather data, sensor feeds from buildings and utilities, business intelligence data about performance of companies, economic and demographic data, are all examples of data that reflect day-to-day activities in the world, and that have not been traditionally defined as geographic data.

What are the most important aspects of the GeoWeb from a technology perspective?

  • Data discovery and discovery of dynamic services is still a challenge. For example, Google has a web crawler that works well for static content. But what about dynamic services? For instance, find archives of imagery of Seattle between 2000 and 2005. There could be multiple owners of that data; therefore, find me all the possible organizations that can serve me this data. Then find me a service that will aggregate the data from these sources and provide me with the highest quality images. How is that solved? Standards!
  • Regarding geographic data, Google Earth provides a baseline of imagery, but where does that data come from? How automatically does it get to Google Earth? When a municipality adds a new road, is there a means for that to be automatically reflected in the base data of Google Maps or Microsoft Virtual Earth (now Bing)?
  • Interoperability is required to deliver seamless services and content to the user so that the user doesn’t need to worry about multiple formats. For example, find the best imagery of Seattle and find floodplain data, and then display a map of the areas at risk for 100-year floods. If NGA has the best aerial imagery and FEMA has the best floodplain database, and both are in well-known and standardized formats, then it is much easier to implement the service combining the two datasets and furthermore the user doesn’t even have to be aware of the different underlying formats at all. How is this solved? Standards!
  • Even where organizations use the same data formats and vendor technology, information sharing is not trivial. Each organization looks at the world differently and hence uses different schemas (data models). Standards and the infrastructure based on these standards must enable data to be shared in spite of such model differences.
  • Business process integration of geospatial content is critical. Many GeoWeb technologies are solutions looking for problems to solve and many national mapping programs focus on the aggregation of data that is not particularly useful to solving specific business and public policy problems. Maturing of the GeoWeb will require the development of an information infrastructure that integrates business processes, and that is driven from a business requirements perspective.
  • Therefore understanding the lifecycle and workflow of data in the enterprise context is critical. For example, the building permitting process requires a developer to submit plans for the building for the purpose of getting approval. Those plans are currently not integrated with law enforcement, urban planning, and utility providers, for example for the purposes of crime analysis and city design. How can these problems be solved? Standards!

Standards in the above examples include not just interface or encoding standards but also institutional agreements, process standards, and rights of use.

Why does the GeoWeb matter?

The GeoWeb allows extraction of a deeper level of information and knowledge than ever before. As a result, geospatial becomes a value multiplier from a business and public policy perspective. The ability to gain unprecedented insight into the day-to-day activities we conduct, from business to government, and from emergency response, to social interactions, to travel will raise the level of information for everyone and create a platform for innovation of new products and services.

Although taking advantage of the GeoWeb does not require formal geospatial training or expertise, understanding the technology challenges and the history, social, business, and government issues is critical to its continued growth and maturity. The GeoWeb 101 workshop is a must for those new to the GeoWeb geospatial experience, as well as for those who are technically geo-savvy but looking to better understand the business, governmental, and policy issues involved in expanding the GeoWeb. For everything you ever wanted to know about the GeoWeb—from its history, definition, and business issues to applications, architecture, and standards—don’t miss the GeoWeb 101 workshop on Monday, July 27, 2009.

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